The Substance Of Fire (1996)

DANIEL J. SULLIVAN

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1996.  Miramax.  Screenplay by , based on his play.  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by National Board of Review Awards 1996.Toronto International Film Festival 1996.  

Sterling drama stars an excellent  as a Holocaust survivor now entering his twilight years and enjoying the success of his profitable Manhattan publishing firm. Having hired his estranged son () to help him pull the business out of a temporary slump, the two butt heads when Rifkin decides he absolutely must publish a costly Holocaust memoir that could put the publishing house under if it doesn’t sell well. Son Goldwyn thinks they should play it safe and publish a best-selling novel until things look safe again. This rift between father and son extends to the rest of the family, including another son (Timothy Hutton) and daughter (, in a rare dramatic role that she shines in), and soon Rifkin is lost in an abyss of sorrow and guilt after years of unexpressed anger from his youth and unspoken love for his children. Jon Robin Baitz has beautifully adapted his powerful play to the screen with exceptional grace, and the cast lives up to his brilliant dialogue without skipping a beat. Excellent, low-key drama.

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